I just heard that David Brenner died. He was 78 and had been suffering from cancer. I loved him when I was a kid but he’s fallen off my radar since then, although I would occasionally see him pop up. His act hadn’t really changed at all. And he was hugely influential. He was a critical part of the move from the old story-focused stand-up comedy of people like Shelley Berman to the observational humor that to a large extent is still with us.
Brenner didn’t start in comedy until late in life. He had been a documentary filmmaker into his 30s. In 1971, at the age of 35, his stand-up career took off after performing on The Tonight Show. And, in fact, he appeared on the show more than any other person—almost 160 times. Here is his first appearance on the show. It is a bit dated, but still quite funny. It made me laugh out loud a few times: